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Rundgren, Todd: Arena

Arena is a very good title for Todd Rundgren's latest, a return to 'arena' rock so to speak for the veteran musician/singer/producer. Easily his most rocking album in years, if not ever, Arena was written, performed, and produced by Rundgren, and contains 13 tracks of heavy rock, pop, and even a little prog. From the opening crunch-o-rama that is "Mad", a song that recalls early 80's Utopia, it's obvious that Todd wanted to let the world know (in case we all forgot) just how capable he is on the electric guitar. There's plenty of beefy riffs, scorching solos, and layered textures throughout this one, and his catchy melodies and addicting vocal delivery are in fine form.

All the songs have a one-word title, so things are pretty easy to remember. "Afraid" is one of the more proggy pieces here, layers of guitar chords, keys, and dreamy melodies permeate the tune, and Todd delivers a great lead solo that shows just how tasty a player he is. On "Mercenary" he delivers an angry heavy rock number, shouting "how do you like me now, how do you like me now?" with plenty of fire and angst. "Gun" again reminds a bit of early 80's Utopia, a quirky pop tune with some hard rock muscle, while "Courage" is vintage Rundgren, a catchy blend of pop & rock, supported by effective instrumentation. The vocal melodies on this one will stick in your head for days on end. Todd takes us into dark, poppy, blues-rock on "Weakness" (sort of like Utopia meets Robin Trower), as he lets his soulful side take over, and on "Strike" we get a healthy dose of stadium rock and roll, big riffs and even bigger vocal hooks all the rage.

One of the rare hiccups on the CD comes with "Pissin", a pointless little pop number that doesn't have much going for it, but thankfully Rundgren quickly redeems himself with "Today", a futuristic rocker that recalls some of his 90's material, with even a strong 80's Rush flavor as well. Featuring busy programmed drums, shimmering guitar chords, and a rousing chorus, this piece is a lot of fun. The longest, and perhaps most intense tune on the CD is "Bardo", featuring Todd in full Frank Marino/Robin Trower mode, delivering scorching, fuzz-drenched melancholy blues rock, a real treat as it's not often that the guitar player dips into that style. "Mountaintop" is a slow 'n' crunchy boogie number, not bad but not one of the best of the lot either, and is followed by "Panic", a manic pop number that will please lovers of Utopia's later period. It's quirky enough, and has some neat vocal parts to go along with some sharp guitar work. Closing number "Manup" is another arena rocker, featuring plenty of bombastic riffs and sing-along choruses.

As someone who has followed the career of Todd Rundren for many years, Arena is an unexpected but totally welcome surprise, easily his best release in over 20 years. It's nice to hear Todd deliver some guitar oriented hard rock here to go along with his pop sensibilities, and many of these songs are so strong I can easily see them becoming live staples for years to come. Recommended.

Track Listing
1. Mad 3:35
2. Afraid 4:52
3. Mercenary 4:02
4. Gun 3:54
5. Courage 3:44
6. Weakness 5:15
7. Strike 3:29
8. Pissin 4:39
9. Today 5:22
10. Bardo 6:13
11. Mountaintop 4:18
12. Panic 3:11
13. Manup 4:00

Added: December 27th 2008
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Related Link: Artist Website
Hits: 2182
Language: english

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